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Monday 16 December 2019

Wonderful heart earns draw

Electric Ireland Leinster Minor Hurling Championship: Wexford 2-17 Dublin 3-14

Wexford’s Conor Foley avoids this attempt at a hook by Ryan Malone of Dublin
Wexford’s Conor Foley avoids this attempt at a hook by Ryan Malone of Dublin

Alan Aherne

Whatever happens in the knockout stages, there can be no denying that the Wexford Minor hurlers have warmed the hearts of supporters in their two most recent displays.

After that heroic 14-man effort against Kilkenny saw them pipped to the post, they returned to Bellefield on Saturday and produced further heroics to force a draw with long-time pace-setters Dublin thanks to a storming finish.

And although the share of the spoils wasn't enough to secure safe passage to the semi-finals and a home draw, they will have the opportunity to re-group against a Tier 2 or Tier 3 qualifier, before hopefully getting another crack at one, or preferably both, of the big guns.

There was nothing in the first 50 minutes of this contest to suggest Wexford would be the team pushing hard for victory in the closing stages.

A seventh-minute goal sent Dublin on their way, and they led by nine points on three separate occasions before retiring at the break with a gap of eight in their favour (2-10 to 0-8).

Wexford did rally on the re-start and had that margin halved by the 40th minute, only to ship another serious blow in the form of a third goal from the boys in blue.

The scoreboard read 3-14 to 0-14 after Ben McSweeney converted a Dublin free with eleven minutes left, but what followed was a joy to behold as Wexford threw everything they had at their rivals and earned a lot of admiration in the process.

Of course, rather than patting themselves on the back in light of the praise received for the comeback, mentors and players alike would be better off focusing on the reasons why they found themselves in that difficult position in the first place.

There was no spark to their play until that gripping conclusion, but they showed what they are really capable of in the closing ten minutes.

A.J. Redmond nailed each and every one of his nine frees with a fantastic display of accuracy from various angles, chipping in with another three from play for good measure.

And the comeback started when he split the posts from a placed ball tight to the right sideline under the pavilion in the 52nd minute, although there was still a mountain to climb.

The real spark was provided on the next Wexford attack when Josh Shiel jinked inside a would-be tackler to the left of the scoreboard end posts and slammed the ball to the net with a fine solo effort (3-14 to 1-15).

A low shot by captain Richie Lawlor was then deflected over the bar, only for the point to be ruled out because a team-mate was in the square beforehand.

Ben McSweeney fired a long-range free wide as the pressure started to mount on the Dubs, and it was very much game on after Wexford pounced for a second goal as the game moved into its 58th minute.

Cian Molloy aimed a shot from distance for the corner of the net, but Eoin O'Connor made a fine diving save and Richie Lawlor's follow-up effort was also kept out.

However, the ball eventually broke into the path of substitute David Cantwell who pulled without hesitation to the net from close range, narrowing the gap to 3-14 to 2-15 as the Wexford supporters sensed that all wasn't lost.

Redmond pointed a free from deep in his own half, and a chop on Jack Kirwan presented him with another opportunity, this time for the equaliser, from just inside the 65-metre line.

He was up to the task, striking the leveller 40 seconds into added time, and that's how it ended after Kirwan dropped a late effort short and substitute Oisín Pepper then struck the fifth and final Wexford wide (Dublin had twelve).

It was incredible to think that the visitors were outscored by 2-3 to nil in the final ten minutes of action. And although they did launch one late attack, it was dealt with defiantly before the game concluded by corner-back Joe Conroy who was an able replacement for the suspended Dylan Whelan.

Wexford were against the breeze first and pulled full-forward Richie Lawlor outfield. He was allowed to roam initially before Dublin assigned Conor Burke with marking duties on the capable captain, and there was an early exchange of points between Brendan Scanlon and A.J. Redmond from play prior to the visitors goaling for the first time in the seventh minute.

Scanlon applied a clinical finish after latching on to an accurate low pass and turning on a sixpence, and it set the tone for the dominance that followed.

Three wides on the trot from the leaders let Wexford off the hook, but Ben McSweeney and Dara Purcell added to their advantage before a couple of A.J. Redmond frees reduced arrears to 1-3 to 0-3.

The second arrived after a re-take was ordered by referee Gavin Quilty when a Dublin defender encroached as the Rathnure lad took aim for the posts.

Scanlon was unfortunate to strike a point attempt wide via the left post before Wexford endured a very poor six-minute spell when six scores were conceded.

Three on the trot arrived from Dara Purcell who was causing major problems at centre-forward, but the switch of Cian Molloy to keep tabs on the dangerman was an obvious success as he didn't score again.

The rot was briefly stopped with a Dylan O'Neill point after a solo run by Kyle Scallan in the 24th minute, only for Conor Murray to respond at the other end (1-10 to 0-4).

Two successful Redmond frees, after a throw by Davy Crowe and overcarrying from Purcell, plus a Josh Shiel point from the left flank following a Jack Kirwan pass, left six between the teams, but another hammer blow was just around the corner.

It arrived as the game moved into its 30th minute, with Dublin's Ben McSweeney picking the pocket of full-back Emmet Cullen as he attempted to lift the ball before racing through for an opportunist goal.

A.J. Redmond did pull back a point from a free in added time, but Wexford went in at the break trailing by 2-10 to 0-8, and it was 2-8 to 0-3 with regard to scores registered from play.

Cian Browne and Conor Foley were introduced at left half-back and left half-forward respectively, with Dublin striking first after just 14 seconds when Charlie Keher pointed.

The next nine minutes were encouraging all the same, with Wexford appearing to finally settle as they picked off five unanswered points from Redmond (free), substitute Foley, Cian Byrne, Cian Molloy (free), and Redmond from play.

Byrne's effort was a shot on goal from a Luke Kavanagh delivery that was superbly tipped over by Eoin O'Connor, while Redmond struck a beauty after catching a crossfield ball to narrow arrears to 2-11 to 0-13.

Dublin brought big full-forward and dual player Luke Swan out to the left wing in a bid to secure more possession, and Wexford hit another unforeseen roadblock in the 43rd minute when Charlie Keher won a 50-50 contest with David Codd and cut inside before driving the ball across Cian Byrne and into the far corner of the net (3-11 to 0-13).

Dublin's tails were up again, and they added three of the next four points, including two from frees, with the sole response arriving from A.J. Redmond after a Cian Browne clearance was batted into his path.

It seemed inconceivable that the Dubs wouldn't score again and that Wexford would fight back from a nine-point deficit, but that's exactly what happened on an afternoon that confirmed there really is nothing between the big three in the province at this level.

Wexford: Cian Byrne (St. Mary's, Rosslare); Joe Conroy (Craanford), Emmet Cullen (Gusserane), David Codd (St. Martin's); Justin Moran (St. Anne's), Kyle Scallan (Faythe Harriers), Cian Molloy (Naomh Eanna, 0-1 free); Jack Kirwan (Rapparees), Luke Kavanagh (St. Martin's); Josh Shiel (Faythe Harriers, 1-1), Diarmuid O'Leary (St. Martin's), Dylan O'Neill (Shelmaliers, 0-1); A.J. Redmond (Rathnure, 0-12, 9 frees), Richie Lawlor (Faythe Harriers, capt.), Cian Byrne (Fethard, 0-1). Subs. - Conor Foley (Horeswood, 0-1) for O'Leary (HT), Cian Browne (Naomh Eanna) for Cullen (HT), David Cantwell (St. Martin's, 1-0) for Byrne, Fethard (37), Oisín Pepper (Rapparees) for Kavanagh (47), Paddy Whitty (Cloughbawn) for O'Neill, inj. (60+1), also Derry Mahon (HWH-Bunclody), Owen Lennon (Rathnure), Michael Laffan (Glynn-Barntown), Ciarán Regan (HWH-Bunclody).

Dublin: Eoin O'Connor; Conor Burke, Davy Crowe, Tommy O'Brien; Ryan Malone, Cian Ó Cathasaigh, Conal Ó Tuathaill; Colm Walsh, James O'Brien (0-1); Ben McSweeney (1-4, 0-3 frees), Dara Purcell (0-4), Conor Murray (0-1); Charlie Keher (1-3, 0-1 free), Luke Swan, Brendan Scanlon (1-1). Subs. - Joe Flanagan for Malone (45), Evin Dowling for Keher (49).

Referee: Gavin Quilty (Kilkenny).

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